“Where do I start?” is a common question heard among the ranks of would-be entrepreneurs and small-to-medium businesses. Although many believe that a business plan or strategy is the place to start, these documents outline actions that should only be created after you’ve identified your purpose.
A purpose is an individual’s or organization’s reason for being. It is a clear intention that identifies the audience to be served and why. A purpose defines what is truly unique about an individual or a company.
It is about this time when people start thinking or even saying “Well, our purpose is to make money,” and the discussion ensues. Money is a result. It is not your purpose. Companies who take the time to clearly define their purpose, outline a plan to support that purpose, and define goals with metrics that measure performance against the purpose, are the ones who are profitable. In fact, a 10-year study of the financial health and growth of 50,000 brand conducted by Millward Brown Optimor, showed the top 50 brands were focused on pursuing their purpose ahead of profit, yet they outperformed the S&P 500 by 400% over this 10-year time period. A compelling purpose is the path to purchase.
Back to “Where do I start?” Whether you are an individual or an organization, your path to purpose will require the use of your rear view mirror as well as your clear vision, looking forward. There are three things you need to do to start your journey.
- Gather Stories – To uncover your purpose, draw upon defining moments and examine them to find the connections. The more specific the memories, the better. Rediscover the details, feelings within the conversations, the lessons learned – these will offer clues to why you are successful. The more stories you recover the better, because that will provide more data from which to start identifying recurring themes. If you are finding your company’s purpose, enlist a diverse group of employees and ask them to provide details about their memories of your company at its best. Focus on the stories that made the biggest impression on your life or in the business. Try to gather at least 10. Jot down enough detail so you can convey the stories to a group that is assigned to look for connections.
- Identify Themes – If you are working on a company purpose, assemble a small group to review the stories. This team should work together to probe for more details. As you share the stories that were gathered or identified, themes will start to emerge. You may see connections that you’ve never realized before. As the process unfolds, one or two recurring themes will start to rise to the top. You’ll be thinking “that’s it.” Be prepared to tell your story. Storytelling humanizes and adds emotional appeal.
- Draft and Refine Your Purpose Statement – The themes that emerged in the storytelling session will be the basis for your Purpose Statement. This is a simple statement that is clear, actionable and focused on others, using positive language. It looks something like this: WE EXIST TO (your contribution) SO THAT (the impact you’ll make).
ADDITIONAL PROMPTS TO HELP FIND YOUR PURPOSE:
- Think of your best day. What happened? What made it so good? Did you help others? What makes it stand out?
- What was a day at work where, at the end of it, you could say, “I would have done that for free”? What about that experience did you love?
- What was an experience that taught you a valuable life lesson or changed the way you look at the business?
- What has been a pivotal moment in your life or your business when you realized nothing would be the same again?
- When was a specific time you collaborated on something that was impactful?
- What was something you did or the company achieved that makes you feel proud?
Do you feel like you need some additional inspiration? Take a cue from some purpose-focused companies and their statements:
- “Connect people to what’s important in their lives through friendly, reliable, and low-cost air travel.” – Southwest Airlines
- “To inspire and nurture the human spirit — one person, one cup and one neighborhood at a time.” – Starbucks
- “To bring inspiration and innovation to every athlete in the world (everybody is an athlete).” – Nike
Take time to think, plan and commit to creating a compelling purpose. Be prepared to live your purpose and reinforce it regularly. Finally, activate your purpose across all critical touch-points. Use your purpose as your compass for decision-making. If you take these steps, you will be energized and your company will be better positioned to create exceptional experiences for your customers who, by the way, pay you that money that you desire.
Kathleen Curtis Wolf is the founder and Chief Experience Officer at The Purpose Partners, a strategic brand, marketing and communications consulting firm that lives by the purpose: We guide clients, discovering connections to address and solve challenges that get in the way of creating exceptional experiences. Kathleen can be reached on Twitter @kccurtis or LinkedIn at www.linkedin.com/in/kathleencurtiswolf